Subject: AU: Brereton in Dili to ease gas pressure

The Australian

Brereton in Dili to ease gas pressure

By Nigel Wilson, National energy writer


ONE of Mark Latham's closest supporters, Laurie Brereton, will meet senior East Timor officials in Dili today to urge approval for the Greater Sunrise project, only days after the Opposition Leader suggested a Labor government would scrap existing development arrangements.

News of the talks was seen last night in Canberra and Dili as an attempt to clarify Mr Latham's position on negotiations between Australia and East Timor on a maritime boundary.

Mr Brereton said yesterday he "did not take exception" to what Mr Latham had said in Darwin last Wednesday, but the $5 billion Sunrise gas project must go ahead.

Mr Latham dropped any pretence of a bipartisan approach to negotiations with East Timor when he said: "If we come into government, I think we'll have to start again because from what I can gather, there's been a lot of bad blood across the negotiating table."

The remarks led senior government sources to suggest Mr Latham had made a serious foreign policy blunder that could lead to talks on a maritime boundary between East Timor and Australia, scheduled for Canberra in September, being scrapped.

A spokeswoman for Mr Latham said last night Labor was "disgusted by the bullying tactics of the Government, which lack fairness and are threatening development of petroleum projects".

Mr Brereton, a confidant of Mr Latham who is not standing at the next election, said he had been to East Timor three or four times "as a matter of interest".

He emphasised the current fact-finding mission -- he left Canberra for Dili yesterday afternoon -- had been arranged for some time.

"It's a study tour and I'll rock in overnight for a day," Mr Brereton said. He declined to say whether Mr Latham's remarks were on the agenda for discussion with the "senior East Timor officials" he was planning to meet.

But sources in Dili said Mr Brereton was expected to be quizzed on what precisely Mr Latham was intending by his remarks in Darwin last week.

The issue was whether a Latham government would overturn arrangements already reached between the two countries covering Timor Sea developments.

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